Communicating for Results: Avoiding Miscommunications and Unnecessary Conflict
Even with the best intentions, there are still times when our communications (or our failure to communicate) end up leading us down the wrong path. When this takes place, it is necessary to restate, repair or recover from a misstep or misstatement. We waste even more time sorting out the damage than we hoped to have avoided if we had dealt with something using thoughtfulness and careful attention the first time around.
If you have waited too long (or failed altogether) to respond to an important call/email/letter, then there is likely to be some fence-mending in order. The failure to get the results you wanted may be more about the timing of your request or response than the actual wording. The lack of responsiveness when a person is job hunting, searching for candidates or developing new business can end up being a bigger nail in the coffin than an actual message.
Along the same lines, leaving a 10-minute voice mail for a recruiter, candidate or sales prospect when you have been out of touch is likely to put them off completely. It’s critical to respond in a timely way, using the right tools, while also being cognizant of your audience’s needs. Now that the job market is softening up, recruiters/employers are going to have a tougher job filling less interesting roles. It might be the time to reconsider ignoring candidates’ calls or emails and be more conscientious about developing relationships with clearer communications.
Here are several remedies that would help prevent or eliminate unnecessary miscommunications:
Acknowledge. Respond to all communications that include a question, information you requested or any content that leaves you unsure of what the other person needed/wanted. A one-sided conversation can lead to greater issues. A non-response doesn’t necessarily equate to “no” or “I’m not interested.” To the person initiating the message, not receiving a response when feedback is requested can also mean “they must not have received it,” which leads to a redundant request. A non-response can also suggest “this person is pretty rude” or “this person thinks they’re more important than I am” or “this person is much too busy to be bothered, so I don’t think I’ll send a referral/lead/tip/invitation their way again.”
Request clarification. Staying in the dark or making assumptions never helps. If more information is needed, let the person know you can follow with a more complete answer at a later date. Not responding to a request because you don’t know what they mean or don’t have an answer can lead to a variety of misperceptions.
Timing. Send communications that require a response when you/the recipient are most likely to be available. Asking for something late on Thursday, receiving a response on Friday and then waiting until Monday to answer could mean missing an important date/time or leave the other person completely disinterested in helping by the time you respond. Think about the recipient and when they are most likely to be in a position to (1) have the information you need and (2) have the time to respond. If you are requesting information before the person has access to it, they may ignore your request completely. If you make a request just before they are headed out for the day or going into an important meeting, the message may also get overlooked. Likewise, if you have a bone to pick with someone, catching them on their way out the door or just before they turn in for the night is probably not likely to elicit the response you hoped for.
Follow through. If you said you were going to call someone on a certain day — do it! It’s shocking to me how many commitments are broken and not acknowledged because someone was “too busy.” Everyone is busy! It simply causes unnecessary conflict, bad feelings and more work for everyone to make an appointment and not keep it. At the very least, call to change it if you can’t make it. People remember unfulfilled promises and impolite behavior. These actions can break trust, turn away business and cause projects to fail. Here’s a small example:
Recently I read a lengthy blog post that began with a candidate suggesting it was common for recruiters to miss scheduled interviews with candidates. A recruiter responded by explaining how it can happen and why it really isn’t the norm, just a product of too much to do. She may not remember that years ago she stood up one of my clients not just once but twice for scheduled phone interviews. The excuse after the fact was that she had an “emergency” and was too busy to call to reschedule. Coincidentally, at the scheduled time of the last interview, I found several new blog posts published on the recruiter’s website that appeared to have been written during that “emergency.” This was probably close to 10 years ago. I haven’t forgotten.
During a very tight economy, candidates were in abundance. A candidate who didn’t respond to a phone call or email or missed an appointment was out of luck. Many candidates learned the lesson the hard way by missing opportunities. Now, employers may not realize it yet, but after having a surplus of candidates, things are changing. Now that the market is picking up and good candidates are able to be more selective, it is all the more reason for recruiters to respond to calls or email and follow through on promises, or they are going to have an even harder time finding candidates for tough-to-fill positions.
Appropriate technology. A 5-minute voice mail message is most likely to be deleted before the point of the message is heard. If you have a lot to say, then leave a message regarding the points you need to discuss and the best time to reach you, or, if there is a considerable amount of data to share, send the full version by email. Don’t hold someone hostage by delaying the point, or you are likely to miss it altogether. On the other end of the spectrum, if you are using a mobile device to receive messages, make sure you have accessed all attachments or viewed the entire message before you respond or delete. Too frequently, communications break down because the recipient has breezed past the message, inadvertently deleted it or simply didn’t notice the full content.
Proof. Auto-write programs in email and handheld devices have the tendency to skew messages. If you are sending a text that has been auto-filled, please read it again before you hit send. It could save time, embarrassment or hurt feelings. I am personally guilty of dyslexic typing and being in too much of a hurry to stop and correct all of the mistyped information in some of my “quick” communications. Many times, it just creates more work when the recipient is trying to figure out my “code.”
Discuss. Communication is a two-way street. Passive-aggressive behavior (not speaking, not responding or getting even) can lead to greater conflicts than ever could have been imagined. When involved parties discuss a small issue up front when it happens, a small issue/situation can be kept from being blown out of proportion. If someone needs to blow off steam, rather than avoid them, acknowledge their feelings or concern, then suggest a time you can discuss the matter more completely when you are both calm.
Set clear expectations. Clearly define tasks and set touch-back points for delegated activities or projects points to avoid delays. Make sure all parties are clear about their contributions at the start.
Pay attention. Stop what you are doing when someone requests an important conversation. If it is not possible, then let the person know when it will be possible. If a customer requires your attention, figure out how to give it. It’s just not always possible to continue to type, talk, read and respond to four people at once. If I am engrossed in other work that is time sensitive, then it is extremely difficult to stop in the middle to concentrate on random or multiple layers of questions. One remedy I request is that my clients set appointments with me to discuss questions that require more thought or more time to discuss than we each have available by going back and forth by email. That way I am able to schedule time to dedicate to just them and their issue.
Listen. Make sure you have captured the intent of the conversation. Did you fully understand the other party’s intention? Were your responses appropriate? Be certain you have left the conversation with as few misperceptions as possible.
If you think you are too busy to dedicate time and effort to all of the communications you receive, start paying attention to all of the unnecessary communications that inattention generates. Track how many more emails, phone calls and conversations are generated to straighten out misperceptions, address lack of business, develop new prospects and screen new candidates. Think again before you ignore a request requiring a response. Avoid unnecessary conflict and start communicating for results.